THE FAMILY (R)

The Family (R)

 
 
(l.  to right.)  Michelle Pfeiffer, Robert DeNiro, Dianna Agron and John D'Leo aren't quite ordinary people in 'The Family.'
(l. to right.) Michelle Pfeiffer, Robert DeNiro, Dianna Agron and John D'Leo aren't quite ordinary people in 'The Family.'
Jessica Forde / RELATIVITY MEDIA

Movie Info

Rating: * * * 

Cast: Robert DeNiro, Michelle Pfeiffer, Tommy Lee Jones, Dianna Agron, John D’Leo, Dominic Chianese, Vincent Pastore.

Director: Luc Besson.

Screenwriters: Luc Besson, Michael Caleo. Based on the book by Tonino Benacquista.

Producers: Luc Besson, Ryan Kavanaugh, Virginie Silla.

A Relativity Media release. Running time: 112 minutes. Vulgar language, violence, gore, sexual situations, adult themes. Playing at area theaters.


rrodriguez@MiamiHerald.com

If The Sopranos had ended with Tony turning informant and being whisked away into the witness protection program, The Family could have been a big-screen sequel to the TV show. As the movie opens, Giovanni Monzani (Robert DeNiro) is living under the alias Fred Blake in France with his wife, Maggie (Michelle Pfeiffer), and two kids, Warren (John D’Leo) and Belle (Glee’s Dianna Agron). They are moving to a small town after being found out in their previous hideout on the French Riviera.

The children are complaining about the long road trip and the rank smell inside the car. Fred tells them they should have given their German Shepherd a bath before they left. But a couple of scenes later, we find out the reason for the stench is a corpse Fred stashed in the trunk. Once everyone has gone to sleep, he buries the body in the middle of nowhere.

That opening bit is strongly reminiscent of GoodFellas, one of the many movies director Luc Besson ( The Fifth Element, The Professional) references in sly, funny ways. Adapted from Tonino Benacquista’s farcical novel Malavita, The Family is the rare breed of pitch-black comedy that uses violence seriously or comically, depending on the situation.

The Blakes are under the protective eye of a CIA agent (Tommy Lee Jones) who is increasingly exasperated by Fred’s refusal to behave. The former mobster finds a typewriter in the new house and decides to write his memoirs, recounting his criminal past in detail. Writing soothes him, fills his time. But when a plumber tries to fleece him for repairs, he breaks the man’s leg in seven places. And after he finds out the reason the tap water in the house is brown has to do with a nearby chemical processing plant, he builds a bomb.

Fred isn’t the only member of the family with a killer instinct. When Maggie goes to the grocery store and overhears the owner trash-talking Americans in French, she pays for her items with a smile, then blows up the place on her way out. In high school, Warren quickly builds his own network of intimidation, exacting sweet and clever revenge on the kids who bullied him. (D’Leo is terrific in the role, reminiscent of a teenage Joe Pesci who hasn’t yet started stabbing people in the neck with a pen.) Belle is an even tougher cookie, doling out the hurt at some boys who think American girls are all sluts.

The Family is the first English-language movie Besson has directed since 1999’s The Messenger: The Story of Joan of Arc, but he has written and produced a slew of action pictures in the meantime ( Taken, The Transporter, Colombiana). This movie has a striking visual style, but Besson’s primary focus is on his characters. He balances humor and drama with surgical precision, making us love this crazy family and fear for their safety. The movie is a cartoon, but the stakes are surprisingly real.

Pfeiffer gets to mine the menacing aspect of her beauty — she’s always seemed a little dangerous — and DeNiro, who lately has been going through the motions, seems fully engaged and excited by this role. Fred affords the actor an opportunity to strike a broad range of notes, including a wonderful sequence in which the movie enters meta-territory that would make Martin Scorsese cheer.

The Family climaxes with an extremely suspenseful shootout that leaves a high body count and wracked nerves in its wake. But what you remember most are the funny bits and the unconditional love these twisted family members have for each other. The Addamses have nothing on the Blakes. Just pray they don’t move in next door.

Read more Reeling with Rene Rodriguez stories from the Miami Herald

  •  
Dad (Ethan Hawke, right) plays around with his son (Ellar Coltrane) in a scene from “Boyhood.”

    Boyhood (R)

    Contrary to most dramas, which tend to dwell on traumatic or seismic events, Richard Linklater’s Boyhood argues that life is a compilation of small, everyday moments, an accumulation of the feelings and thoughts and emotions we start to gather from the time we are children. Shot over the span of 12 years, with the cast getting together for a few days annually to shoot some scenes, the movie charts the growth of Mason (Ellar Coltrane) from the ages of 5 to 18. Mason has an older sister, Samantha (Lorelei Linklater, the director’s daughter) and he has two loving parents, Mom (Patricia Arquette) and Dad (Ethan Hawke), who are divorced and live apart. Their relationship can be contentious at times, but they both care deeply for their kids.

  •  
 <span class="cutline_leadin">‘Life Itself’:</span> Gene Siskel, left, and Roger Ebert get into one of their countless arguments during the taping of their TV show.

    Life Itself (R)

    There are scholars who blame Roger Ebert and Gene Siskel for dumbing down film criticism with their thumbs-up, thumbs-down approach, the same way they blame Steven Spielberg and George Lucas for ruining movies with the success of Jaws and Star Wars. But Siskel and Ebert accomplished just the opposite: They popularized criticism and introduced it to the masses via their PBS show in which they spent a lot of time debating (and fighting) over movies before delivering their final, yes-or-no verdict. The first version of their show, which was titled Sneak Previews and aired on PBS in the late 1970s, led me to read Pauline Kael and Film Comment and American Film and the Miami Herald’s late, great Bill Cosford as a kid. Suddenly, my nascent love of movies blew up: Movies weren’t just something you watched for entertainment. Sometimes, there was a lot to find beneath their surface.

  •  
Caesar (Andy Serkis) leads a war against mankind in “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes.”

    Dawn of the Planet of the Apes (PG-13)

    Yawn of the Planet of the Apes — excuse me, Dawn — has a big-budget sheen, a few terrific action setpieces and some of the most jaw-dropping CGI effects to date: You will believe these apes are real (although some of them are actors wearing costumes).

Miami Herald

Join the
Discussion

The Miami Herald is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere on the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

The Miami Herald uses Facebook's commenting system. You need to log in with a Facebook account in order to comment. If you have questions about commenting with your Facebook account, click here.

Have a news tip? You can send it anonymously. Click here to send us your tip - or - consider joining the Public Insight Network and become a source for The Miami Herald and el Nuevo Herald.

Hide Comments

This affects comments on all stories.

Cancel OK

  • Marketplace

Today's Circulars

  • Quick Job Search

Enter Keyword(s) Enter City Select a State Select a Category